HENDERSON, Ky (WEHT) – When one thinks of high school football, what comes to mind? The atmosphere on the gridiron every Friday night; the sights and sounds of two teams, cheering fans, bands in the stands and cheerleaders performing routines and shaking pom-poms? The bright lights of game time? The tv series “Friday Night Lights”?

While all are part of what makes high school football such an event to look forward to, another aspect of the game makes it all the more special: rivalries.

While rivalries might be simple, Team A hates Team B, more often than not, it is much more complex than one might realize.

Football has its fair share of rivalries across all walks of football, and when it comes to high school football in the Tri-State, that is no exception. One might not know, but the Tri-State is home to some of the most recognizable rivalries in the area.

With high school football just around the corner, Eyewitness News talked to several coaches and athletic directors on their team’s number one rivalry game.

Mater Dei vs. FJ Reitz

When one thinks of high school football in the Evansville area, one that has to come to mind is Mater Dei vs. Francis Joseph (FJ) Reitz. The two teams have been battling for West Side bragging rights since 1952. Both teams also compete for the West Side Nut Club Trophy, first played for in 1970. Going into the 2023 contest, the Panthers want to take home the trophy for a second straight year, winning 14-7 in 2022.

Mater Dei head coach Mike Goebel says it is much more than just bragging rights up for grabs.

“Both teams prepare and hope to play their best in this regular season finale. This rivalry is significant because many of these players are neighbors, friends, relatives and most are former EJFL youth players and teammates,” Goebel explains. “The Mater Dei-Reitz game was voted the outstanding rivalry in Indiana, this includes all rivalries, a few years ago. The game has been featured and streamed nationally in the past.”

FJ Reitz head coach Cory Brunson states it gives seniors bragging rights over the other the rest of their lives.

“The majority of us grew up together playing all the sports with and against each other,” he said. “A lot of us grew up and became friends with each other.”

Goebel stated the atmosphere is electric for the game, but that has a deeper meaning.

“Many of these games are near sellouts, so the atmosphere is charged. It is truly a unique privilege for the players to perform before such large and enthusiastic crowds in such a storied facility. It makes for lifetime memories for the players.”

Goebel said while the outcome of the game does not determine a season, it does get the players ready for the playoffs.

Brunson sees the rivalry as respect to Mater Dei calling them “well coached”.

“Coach Goebel does an amazing job at Mater Dei,” he said. “You have to earn any win against them. We must be well prepared, so this game definitely helps get you mentally ready for the tournament.”

Bosse vs. Harrison

Meanwhile, on the East Side, Bosse and Harrison play for a trophy of their own, the Buehler’s Buy Low East Side Trophy.

Harrison head coach Moe Sutton was part of the rivalry, playing as a player when it peaked in the 1990s at Enlow Field before the construction of Romain Stadium. Now, as a coach it has a different meaning.

“Our kids still get pretty excited about this rivalry because they know the kids at Bosse,” he said. “The rivalry was based on the battle of the east side schools then it became a thing of a border battle between the neighborhoods based on school districts.”

Bosse head coach Stephen Mullen said this rivalry can extend a season.

“Many times when you win this game, you are ending the season on a high note going into the playoffs.”

Harrison won the trophy in 2022.

Castle vs. Memorial

The Castle Knights and Memorial Tigers have been going at it for supremacy since 1978 and play on the final week of the season since 1992. Despite the shift, the objective is still the same: beat the other team in the Cake Eater Bowl.

Memorial’s head coach John Hurley states there is a reason the rivalry is significant for both teams.

“Many kids from the same neighborhoods grew up competing with each other,” he said.

Despite the nature of the game, Hurley states preparing for this game is like a springboard into the tournament.

“Castle, a big and well-coached school, presents a nice challenge,” he said. “Completing the season and moving on to the tournament is always exhilarating. This game highlights challenges of playing week-to-week in the SIAC with no weeks off.”

Castle’s head coach Doug Hurt echoed Hurley.

“It is less about a “grudge” and more about two quality teams jockeying for position in the SIAC. We respect their program, and I believe that they do ours.”

The Tigers have won 18 games, and the Knights have won 27 games in the rivalry with Memorial winning last year.

Henderson County vs. Owensboro

When it comes to old rivalries in the Tri-State, one clash that comes to mind is Henderson County against Owensboro.

Starting in 1895, the two teams have competed against each other over 125 times with Owensboro taking the crown 90 times with Henderson County winning 35 times with six ties. Both teams used to play for the “Bucket”.

Owensboro Public Schools athletic director Todd Harper states many of the athletes grew up competing against each other in middle school with it carrying over to high school.

He said the game means a lot with both schools being about the same in size with being very competitive. This means preparation is everything.

“The team treats this as a preparation game for the upcoming postseason. We play Henderson as the final game of the regular season, leading into the playoffs. They are always a very good team, and it is great preparation for where we need to be.”

Owensboro vs. Owensboro Catholic

Henderson County isn’t Owensboro’s only rival. Owensboro Catholic is the next rival of the Red Devils, and while Henderson County is the oldest rival, Harper states the game against Owensboro Catholic is the most intense.

“This is a very intense rivalry. Our schools are less than one mile apart and all of the players grow up playing against each other in Pop Warner and youth leagues,” Harper states. “The game is a big talking point in our community with bragging rights on the line. It also plays a big part in our City-County Championship here in Owensboro.”

Harper acknowledges both programs have strong traditions and very competitive teams.

“The fan bases expect to win, and there is a certain amount of pressure involved.”

Since the first game in 1961, Owensboro leads the series with 48 wins to Owensboro Catholic winning 16 times with one tie.

Hopkins County Central vs. Madisonville North

Hopkins County Central and Madisonville North every year duke it out of the Coal Bucket, which symbolizes the importance of coal and the coal industry to Hopkins County. Bragging rights are also up for grabs.

Kent Akin is the former athletic director at Hopkins Central, and calls the game big for the community.

“It is the one game every year that will be almost played to capacity no matter weather or date,” he said. “It is the one game where you win, it makes the season.”

Since 1996, Madisonville North has dominated the series since West and South Hopkins merged to form Hopkins County Central with Central winning five of the first seven games, and Madisonville North winning 19 of the last 20 games.

No matter what the record is, Akin says preparation is the same, but the outcome can greatly affect mood.

“It is a very emotional game, and it is a very tough game to bounce back from,” he explained. “Usually, the loser has a really hard time with the next game as it takes out a lot of emotion.”

Madisonville North athletic director Brad Faulk gave his insight.

It is the game on the schedule every year that everyone is talking about. It is what is set as who is the big dog in football in the county. These players grew up around each other, go to church together.

For fans and players, this game can go way back.

The rivalry is generational now where fathers played against each other and now their sons are playing against each other,” Faulk said. “It is the most attended game in any sport either school has all year. Our community comes out in masses.”

Forest Park vs. Southridge

Forest Park and Southridge is a relatively new rivalry with the first game in 2008. Today, Southridge has won all but one of those games.

Southridge head coach and athletic director Scott Buening says the approach to this game is unchanged no matter the opponent.

“We treat every game the same in that we are trying to play the best football we can on any given Friday,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if this is for a Sectional Championship or a regular season game.”

Buening states winning is a great accomplishment but losing is tough because of the work and preparation that goes into each game.

“We take a lot of pride in preparing to the best of our abilities and good or bad, learning from that game and using that to drive our preparation that next week.”

Heritage Hills vs. South Spencer

Heritage Hills and South Spencer is a county rivalry game where only bragging rights are at stake. The first game was played in 1972 for the AEP Power Bowl Trophy, but now, it is bragging rights and pride up for grabs. Despite both teams not being in the other’s sectional, South Spencer head coach Jeff Daming says pride takes precedence.

“Over the years, Heritage Hills has dominated the series. We must elevate ourselves to compete on their level each year,” he said.

Heritage Hills head coach Todd Wilkerson had the same sentiments.

“Since it is a county rivalry, the winner has bragging rights in the county for one full year,” he said. “Many fans have coworkers or relatives who live in the other school district, so those relationships provide fuel for the fire. You do not want to lose to your county rival.”

Both teams compete in the Pocket Athletic Conference.

Mount Vernon vs. North Posey

Mount Vernon and North Posey will kick their seasons off as each other’s first opponent.

With a traveling trophy and bragging rights on the line, Justin Fischer, head coach of the Wildcats, says there is a sense of urgency with playing a main rival to open a season.

Fischer also explains winning or losing against a main rival can determine a season overall.

“It can make your season sweeter or detract a little,” he said. “Last year, we were favored to win, when we didn’t it was pretty deflating. “It was more of a letdown against North Posey. When you do lose, losses hurt but this one hurt more. All these kids know each other playing against one another.”

Apart from last year, Mount Vernon has taken the win against their rival, and they will be looking to take back the Posey County Cup.

Another well-known rivalry in the Tri-State area is Jasper vs. Vincennes Lincoln.

Fall football for the Tri-State kicks off August 18.